By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
It was a bittersweet affair, to be sure, because Fred Cuny, the founder and director of this world-renowned company of "relief cowboys" was not there. He mysteriously disappeared last April during a mission to Chechnya where he was assessing medical needs.
After a three-month, often perilous search for Cuny by family members and colleagues, who were, at one point, robbed at the point of a machine gun by masked men, they concluded by late summer that Cuny was most probably dead, though a body has never been recovered.
His spirit, however, was still very much in evidence, both at the party, where he was warmly toasted, and in the Intertect offices in Oak Lawn, where his small staff is determined to keep his memory and mission alive.
"Clearly this is not the same place without Fred," says Rick Hill, an engineer who has worked for Intertect for the past five years and recently assumed the title of director. "The company was built around Fred and his personality, which is an impossible hole to fill. But we are in the process of letting people know, while Intertect was guided by Fred, most of the work in the trenches was done by other people, and those people are still there."
Apparently the word is getting out that Intertect--a pioneer in the relief field--would indeed carry on. While the company had several ongoing projects around the world when Cuny disappeared, it has gotten several new contracts in the past few months.
The U.S. Department of Defense commissioned Intertect to evaluate humanitarian training programs in the military.
The Soros Foundation, an international relief organization based in New York and Budapest, recently hired Intertect to monitor the gas lines in Sarajevo. Before the gas was turned off by the Russians, Bosnians complained they were only getting 10 percent of the gas for which they were paying.
"A member of our team is a gas engineer with a reputation for being able to work with both sides," Hill explains.
The company hopes to get more work in war-ravaged Bosnia, as the country attempts to rebuild. Intertect has been retained for another project there, but Eric Shutler, a project manager for Intertect and Cuny's cousin, says the client has asked them not to discuss the nature of the project because it is potentially controversial.
Still, things at Intertect have changed. The phone doesn't ring as often with calls from the highest reaches of government and international aid-organizations asking advice. And the company plans to take greater security measures in the future, including having more communication with its staff in the field and more complete knowledge of where people are going and why.
"The nature of our projects is risky," says Shutler, who spent 10 months replacing window glass in schools in Sarajevo. "But we can minimize the risks."
At the Intertect Christmas party, Rick Hill toasted his former boss and mentor for, among other things, bringing this group of people together--no small feat. A half-dozen people attending the party were Bosnians, who moved here to start their lives anew. Most of them had worked for Intertect when Cuny spent more than two years in their country. Cuny and company managed to restore water and electricity to Sarajevo by patching up the city's old, defunct water-system and installing electrical lines.
The Bosnians lifted their glasses and toasted the Bosnian Peace Plan and Fred Cuny, to whom many of them believe they owe their lives.